Community-schools driven strategies most effective for turning around our under-performing schools

2016-17 School Year 

ATLANTA – “Our under-performing public schools are reflective of the communities of which they are a part,” said Dr. Sid Chapman, teacher and president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE).  “We are talking about challenges that are systemic throughout these communities.  What is going to be needed is an all-hands-on-deck community centered approach to address the underlying issues leading to the underperformance of the schoolchildren in these communities.”

Chapman is speaking to the core issues of hunger, poverty, parental/guardian absence or neglect,   and how they combine to negatively impact learning environments.  “First, our educators who work under these conditions are to be commended for doing their best to help children who come to school either hungry, neglected, abused, and/or tired, all through no fault of their own.  These entire school communities, from the principals and teachers to the bus drivers, custodians and food workers, are often working with very limited resources and providing what they can out of their own pockets to help these children just make it from day to day.  So one can understand the challenges of not only getting these children to concentrate in classes, but whether their environment outside of school is even conducive to understanding and completing homework and other school assignments.”

“No political seizure, which is what Gov. Deal is actually asking Georgia voters to approve in November, is going to change what has become deep-seated over generations,” said Chapman. “A constitutional law allowing the state to take over our local communities is not what’s needed. What’s essential for these communities is help in the form of community-based resources that address the actual conditions under which families are living and children attending school – a community schools approach.”

Chapman points to the example of the McClarin Success Academy in College Park, Georgia. It is a school that is turning its situation around through community-based solutions.   The school’s principal, Dr. Lateshia Woodley, herself a teen mother who graduated from the school, works with over 300 students who face enormous learning barriers including homelessness, poverty, violence, and the parenting of siblings and their own children.

McClarin has adopted a new intervention model, known for delivering big gains in communities such as Austin, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis. It’s a proven approach that has turned McClarin around. It’s known as the community schools model. It brings community partners, educators and parents together to collectively confront learning barriers head on. The result: Students can focus on learning instead of just surviving. The collaboration gives students the services and support they need on site, under one roof -- their community school.  [More information on McClarin’s success can be found at

Woodley said, “I had to change the culture of the school and build buy-in from the staff at first. Educators were so overwhelmed with learning barriers they had embraced low expectations for success.”

“But with Woodley’s guidance,” said Chapman, “they enlisted community partners and experts to confront their most formidable learning barriers -- homelessness, poverty and mental health -- and completely revamped its master schedule, course offerings and approach.

What is critical to understand said Chapman is that McClarin’s educators say you cannot create a successful intervention model without daily intervention to address learning barriers swiftly.  “That daily in-the-school/community interaction that is needed for success is simply not going to happen from someone in an office hundreds of miles away.”

The results - The dramatic shift in hours and injection of wraparound services has delivered big results for both educators and students. McClarin’s graduation rate rose from 19 percent to 49 percent in just two years. The school is measured against traditional schools and has no waivers.

Chapman understands that assistance of this type means money and the community-schools approach will require sustainable funding and resources.  He points to a report entitled “Community schools: Transforming struggling schools into thriving schools, The Center for Popular Democracy and etal. (2016)” that states, “[Funding] can be realized through a combination of resource provisions leveraged through partnerships; investment at the federal, state, and local government levels; and foundation and government grants. For example, a site coordinator may leverage health and dental care, early childhood programs, before and after school learning programs, and/or restorative justice programs using free school space like an empty classroom, cafeteria, or gym after school hours. Any investment in Community Schools pays off, literally, ten-fold.”  

It cites some examples such as: “…funding for planning and Community School coordination can come from states (such as Kentucky and Minnesota), counties (such as Schools Uniting Neighborhoods in Multnomah County, Oregon); the United Way, community foundations, and local school districts. Cities, for example New York City and Baltimore, are increasingly finding funding within their city education budgets for Community Schools.”

“The average administrative cost,” noted Chapman, “depending on the size of the school district, has been $150,000.  That’s the cost (salary, benefits, etc.) primarily for the person chosen to head the effort.  That could be a current administrator such as an assistant principal or a teacher elevated to a new leadership community school coordinator role on the leadership team of an individual school.”

The point of this,” said Chapman, “is that turnarounds in these affected communities will take strong local leadership, resources, assistance, and dedicated efforts. There are no shortcuts in this process.”